By Glenn Palmedo-Smith
The “Master” is not what you might think. We don’t even meet the Master until the second act. What we get is a study of the human mind: The sexually driven Id, i.e, troubled Freddie Quell (portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix), and bloated Ego: pompous Lancaster Dodd, (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Wife, Peggy Dodd (portrayed by Amy Adams), provides the adult observer who must tolerate and identify this combination of man-child as one. The closing jail scene of these two characters split by a common wall, a la falx cerebri, (separating the brain’s two hemispheres), says it all; perhaps a conflict within all of us. In the end, Dodd is frustrated by Freddie, as he seems the only person in the room who doesn’t need a Master to lead the way. Thus, Hoffman’s performance, as always, gives ultimate meaning to the film. Observing the always awkward Phoenix grows thin after more than two hours of film.
This film is not for everyone. Children need not apply. There is much nudity. It is therefore mandatory the viewer have at least Psychology 101 under the belt to possibly have a hint of what this film is, or might be, about. The best way to prepare for this experience is to assume the film reflects an existential Master, say, Ron L. Hubbard, who might be starting a cult, say Scientology. Here, we have past-life regressions, mixed with metaphysical psychologies, with Freddie as Dodd’s guinea pig. Dodd has many followers.
Feral-laden Freddie suffers post traumatic stress disorder from WWII. The hand-held flashback scenes of the Pacific War are great and I wish there were more for much-needed back-story.
In this performance, Joaquin Phoenix gives 100 percent. The actor’s use of body language, especially the insecure and vulnerable Barney Fife reversal of hands above slouched hips, with rounded shoulders, is brilliant. It’s fun to watch.
Here, the actor unzips his torso and willingly let’s us see within, his emotional and physical scars — prenatal included. The filmmakers must have anticipated Phoenix’s troubled performance delivery, as they explain this condition with scenes of his character mixing liquid libations of chemicals more often found in a hardware paint departments.
This movie is 45 minutes too long. However, knowing the Academy’s propensity to elevate heady films of this ilk, (I suppose in an effort to misdirect the public from the 90 percent profitable crap), this film assures to be an Oscar favorite. If you enjoy being among the first to sponsor such a phenomenon, then this is “must see” filmmaking. If you’re primarily an eye-roller of the esoteric and sublime, save your money. Nonetheless, this remains a fun E-Ticket ride for the money.
Glenn Palmedo-Smith is a film director, producer and writer. He recently received three Emmys for his Korean war film “Hold At All Costs,” and he has received many national “Best of Fests” awards for his other works. If you’d like to share comments with the writer, email him at DiniFilms@yahoo.com